Youth Voice Writing Contest 2021 — First Place, Essay
Inspiration is a room of strange kids, multi-pack snacks handed out at break time, Disney movies on repeat, time slots for showers and a roommate you hardly know. Inspiration is visitation hours, a single scoop of strawberry ice cream with a distant relative, the tearful goodbyes when they leave you to go back to the warmth of their own beds while you return to the coldness of one that doesn’t belong to you. Inspiration is picking out a toy from the chest when you are awarded “best rule follower of the week,” Eye of the Tiger on Guitar Hero with other orphaned kids, the small containers of ice cream with the wooden spoon — almost like the ones they would hand out to you at school during lunch time, if you were allowed to attend.
Inspiration is getting called out from your fake school session by one of the nice workers and being told someone is here to pick you up, to give you a new home. It is packing your bags as quickly as you can with excitement, making sure to give the stuffed animal horse that you pulled from the toy chest a tight squeeze before packing that too, with it all the tears you cried into its soft fabric when you felt most alone at night. Inspiration is introductions, hi’s and hello’s to new family members who promise to love you as their own, just as they had your mother, though you had never met them before.
Inspiration is painting your new room purple and sticking flower decals on the walls. It is bedtime stories for the first time and a new school. It is meeting new friends and puberty with a motherly figure and passing the age of 12 and having enough money to buy clothes for the school year and home-cooked meals when before you only ate TV dinners and oranges, and distant cousins and Judge Judy on the television and getting a new puppy and —
Suddenly, things shift. You’re not sure why, but something happened on the eve of your 13th birthday when things went from sort-of great to sort-of sad. And you don’t know what you did wrong to have somebody be so angry at you that the veins protrude on their forehead and in their neck but you don’t have time to wonder because a hand is thrown in your face. And then some unkind words. And then shame. And the more you try to understand, the angrier they become.
Suddenly, they are picking your clothes out for you even though you are a freshman in high school. And you are not allowed to have a phone, or friends, or your door closed. And when they become angry at you they take away your books, the only escape from this twisted fairytale into one that wasn’t written about you, one that is about somebody else so that you may live in the havoc of their own plot line and not your own for some 300 pages. And you try to listen. You try to be a good girl. You say no to sleepovers and pull a hood over your head in the hallways at school and get straight A’s and clean and cook and abide by every wish. It’s not enough.
But this too is inspiration.
Inspiration because in just a few years, you’re going to have enough of it. You become the sabotager of your own twisted fairytale. You go against every deeply rooted virtue within you to create a hell on earth that burns too hot to survive, and so they set you free.
This is inspiration because at 15, you meet your family. They make you home-cooked meals with no arguments at the dinner table. They want to see the clothes you bought for yourself when you get home from the mall. They ask you about your friends. They buy you a new phone. They close the door behind them after hugging you goodnight. You fall and stumble and make bad decisions, but with a feeling in their heart that only parents can know, they watch you and wait for you to grow. They give you book recommendations and make you watch Tour de France on the living room TV and chaperon the school dances you were never allowed to attend before and sew the holes in your clothes and in your heart and they do so with loving and no ulterior-motive-having eyes. They ask you about your day and tell you silly things your little sister did and they don’t ask you about the past if you don’t want to talk about it and they stand by you even if you are in the wrong.
And it takes something like this to reflect. On inspiration. On your twisted fairytale. You realize that every minor fall and rise in conflict in your own plot line has been meticulously laid out in your story as the main character just so that one morning, on a school day, you can have your future sister tell you that she has a place for you to stay — a place for you to escape to.
And then, you are reborn.